5.1 Energy Sources: Natural Gas

Author: Liam Sinclair

ABSTRACT: Natural gas is a fossil fuel that is used as one of the primary energy sources in the world. There are many environmental problems caused by the human “need” to extract Natural Gas and it plays a huge role in negatively impacting any efforts to fight global warming and reduce our carbon footprint.

Image Credit: U.S Energy Information Administration (2016)


Natural Gas is formed through the decay of plants and other lifeforms over long periods of time slowly gravitating far under the surface of the earth. Combined with immense pressure and high temperatures generated what we know as Natural Gas alongside coal and even petroleum. This all happened millions of years ago and didn’t happen overnight; this is an extremely slow natural process. This natural resource is composed of many different compounds, primarily methane (formed from carbon and hydrogen atoms), carbon dioxide and water vapour amongst other things. To locate where Natural Gas is hidden beneath the surface Geologists use seismic mapping of land and mass through sound or vibrations creating sonic waves that can depict the change of potentially having Natural Gas. Then drilling tests are performed to confirm the results.

The process of extracting Natural Gas is done through drilling into the earth going through layers of sand, silt, and rock in order to reach the Natural Gas that was formed deep below the surface. The extraction is done through sending high pressure water sand and chemicals down the well to break up the sedimentary rocks releasing the Natural Gas to the surface of the well; this is known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The gas is then sent through pipelines to processing plants. Natural Gas is found between sedimentary rocks, in pockets of space beneath the surface and within deposits of oil and coal.

There are a lot of environmental problems and issues caused by extracting and fracking Natural Gas. There is a harmful impact from air pollution on health and air quality caused from the vehicles, factories, drilling and equipment. This process also causes destruction through the clearing land, nature, and resources. The disruption can cause wildfires and destroy communities. There is a huge risk of contaminating large amounts of water resources not only on the surface but additionally groundwater. During this entire process the leaking of Natural gas into the atmosphere often occurs from pipelines, oil and natural gas wells, storage tanks, processing plants and abandoned wells. To top things off Natural Gas deemed not worth the effort to properly extract is frequently burned creating CO2, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide amongst many more harmful gases being released into the atmosphere.

The common misconception of switching to Natural Gas as our energy source will save the future by reducing our carbon footprint and environmental impact is false. It is true that when compared to burning the other fossil fuels Natural Gas does emit less CO2 into the atmosphere. Yet it still does emit CO2, and on top of that it releases other harmful gases such as methane which is far more powerful at trapping heat in our atmosphere for the initial couple decades compared to carbon. Methane is the primary component of Natural Gas and is 86 times more effective at trapping heat during these first twenty years. The amount of carbon released into the atmosphere through the combustion of Natural Gas doesn’t even account for all the CO2 generated by the entire process of the extraction and transportation.

There is a need to try and decrease the impact of using Natural Gas. This can be put forward by lowering the intensity of methane production, greenhouse gas emissions and the intensity of water usage for the operations. Additionally, increasing the percentage of water that is being recycled in this process, and minimizing the percentage of land and soil use that comes from this entire process. However, reducing the problem isn’t solving it, stopping the use and need for fossil fuels such as Natural Gas entirely would make a difference. Instead, to truly tackle these problems we need to switch fully to environmentally friendly sustainable energy source options rather than these fossil fuels to truly make a difference in lowering our carbon footprint before it is too late.


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